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Updated 06/20/2013


Island Experiment

Inchkeith Island, in the midst of the Firth of Forth, was the setting for one of the most bizarre scientific experiments in Scottish history. In 1493, according to the historian Robert Lyndsay of Pitscottie, King James IV - an enthusiastic promoter of the latest intellectual Renaissance ideas - directed an experiment to discover what the primitive or original language of mankind was.

James had a deaf and dumb woman transported to the solitary island of Inchkeith with two infant children. She was to nurse the infants until they came to the age of speech. It was hoped that when the children learnt to speak, free from normal human communication, they would reveal the original tongue - the language of the gods.

The whole story may well be a tall tale. It wouldn't be the first, a similar one is told about the court of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor in the 13th Century. However, both courts were centers of intellectual activity.

Lyndsay of Pitscottie reported,
"Some say they spoke good Hebrew; for my part I know not, but from report."

The novelist Sir Walter Scott, recounting Lyndsay’s tale, added: ‘It is more likely they would scream like their dumb nurse, or bleat like the goats and sheep on the island.’

In 1497 the island's relative isolation was used once again when sufferers of a disease known as ‘grandgore’, which had broken out in Edinburgh, were shipped there to be kept in isolation.